Sustainability Impact Assessment of Short Food Supply Chains

Sustainability Impact Assessment (SIA) has become an obligatory requirement for all EU policies as well as for much national legislation, e.g., as ex ante assessments prior to policy implementation. With its objective of avoiding or minimizing negative effects as a result of policies and decision-making, SIA has also developed relevance in the arena of food and food supply. In FOODMETRES, SIA is carried out by applying an assessment framework consisting of a food oriented set of impact areas which are understood as wider impact and policy fields rather than narrow indicators. Each impact area can be correlated on the one hand to set innovation goals for SFSCs, and on the other hand to political agenda setting towards meeting societal challenges. FOODMETRES developed its impact areas with the aim of integrating three sustainability dimensions: (i) environment, (ii) economy and (ii) society. Examples of impact indicators in these different areas are food-miles for the environmental impact area, number of jobs along the food chain as an economic impact indicator, and the occurrence of pathogens along the food chain under the food safety domain. We consider the list of food chain impact areas to be one of the key outputs of FOODMETRES, as it fills an important gap in this emerging policy field. The SIA were conducted in a participatory manner, based on judgments by both international experts and regional stakeholders, by online survey and in case study workshops with practitioners. They compared impact areas among a consistent set of SFSC types which include food supply systems that are localised, alternative and social-innovation driven as well as efficiency-oriented and based on sustainable intensification.

Along with the different approaches to assess sustainability impact of food supply chains, in the international literature certainly also different sets of sustainability issues and indicators have been used. To some extent scholars focused on specific aspects and dimensions of sustainability, mainly environmental or climate issues, others considered a broader spectrums of impacts encompassing all three or even four sustainability dimensions, if cultural aspects are taken individually or governance issue are considered:

The International Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has developed guidelines for Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture systems (SAFA) as “[…] a holistic global framework for the assessment of sustainability along food and agriculture value chains”. Especially companies in production, processing, distribution and marketing shall be enabled to understand and assess implications in all dimensions of sustainability as well as the synergies and trade-offs between each other. Therefore, the FAO consider along with environmental, social and economic impacts also the governance-related ones. For all four dimensions, SAFA encompasses 21 themes, 58 sub-themes and 116 indicators. However, the peculiarity of the approach is, in contrast to many product-based approaches, the focus on the company.

Based on Millennium Development and Agenda 21 goals, Yakovleva et al. (2013) have focussed on economic growth, competitiveness and changing consumption pattern as economic indicators; employment creation, equality as social indicators as well as reduction of resource use and environmental protection as ecological indicators. In their development for an analytical framework for food supply chain assessment, Manzini and Accorsi (2013) focused on four macro-area of impact: (i) control of quality, (ii) safety, (iii) sustainability, and (iv) logistics efficiency of food products and processes along the whole food supply chain. The European FAAN project referred to benefits of local food supply in four ways: (i) society, including access to food, community and governance, (ii) culture, including food quality and health, food traditions and local embeddedness, (iii) economy, including transparency, viability, added value and stakeholder cooperation, as well as (iv) environment, including environmental improvement and climate change (FAAN 2010).

Aiming at identifying sustainability issues in food supply chains in Scotland, Leat et al. (2011) carried out a survey among stakeholders in the different areas of food supply, including producers, processors, retailers and consumers as well as the food industry. They found quite strong differences in the perception of sustainability issues, depending on the stakeholders’ area of activity. However, first of all questions of nutrition and local economy as well as health concerns, environmental friendly products and the farming sector are generally ranked high among all groups. Ilbery and Maye (2005) note that due to the relationship of short food supply chains to notions of territory and local embeddedness, sustainability also needs to refer to the food system, including agricultural production.

For the European Commission (2014) sustainability of the food system consists of a whole range of issues like “security of the supply of food, health, safety, affordability, quality, a strong food industry in terms of jobs and growth and, at the same time, environmental sustainability, in terms of issues such as climate change, biodiversity, water, and soil quality”. Based on these rather general sustainability issues, the Commission conducted a Europe-wide survey among 600 stakeholders in the food supply to identify their perceived relevance of individual aspect. Results have not been published yet. According to Kaufman & Pothukuchi (1999), an urban food system has significant impacts on community health and welfare, metropolitan economy and environment. Therefore, in terms of sustainability impact of different types of food chains, we apply the normative approach to focus on their contribution to sustainable development and policy goals. We apply a benchmarking method to assess the different food supply chains regarding the maximum benefits. The set of indicators covers three dimensions of sustainability and contains five indicators/aspects per dimension as shown below. In the following, the various impact areas are introduced. It is explained how they are affected at the different stages along the food chain.

Environmental Dimension of Food Supply
  1. Enhance eco-efficiency in abiotic resource use (land/soil, water, nutrients): Each food chain is related to certain farming or gardening system, which may use abiotic resources more efficiently and provide a good input-output-relation under given regional conditions)
  2. Enhance provision of ecological habitats and (agro-)biodiversity: Each food chain type is related with farming practices, which may enhance the provision of ecological habitats (e. g. hedges, trees, cultivate of a wider range of crops and life stock incl. breeding of traditional or rare species and increase (agro-)biodiversity
  3. Animal protection and welfare: Farming system Each food chain type is related to a farming system, which may result in different conditions for life stock, animal diseases and ethical considerations
  4. Enhancing the reduction of transportation distance: Each food chain type may be related with a shorter transportation distance from place of production to place of consumption (“reducing food miles”)
  5. Enhancing the reduction of packaging: Each food chain type may be related to the reduction of the amount of packaging along the whole chain from place of production to place of consumption

Economic Dimension of Food Supply
  1. Generating employment along the food chain: Each food chain type may create new paid jobs (full- and part time) within the metropolitan region
  2. Generating income and profitability: Each food chain type may generate income and surplus for the actors along the value chain, which can be reinvested and support the long-term economic viability of the food producers
  3. Enhance rural viability and competitiveness: Each food chain type may be related with regional multiplier effects through e.g. regional value added, income and employment generated, tax revenues etc.
  4. Enhance transportation efficiency from producer to consumer: Each food chain type may be related with an efficient mode of transport, which includes e.g. adequate vehicles, capacity utilization, reducing number of travels and unloaded drives etc.
  5. Reduces of food loss and waste along the whole food chain: Each food chain type may support the reduction of food waste and harvest losses at production stage, but also along all other stages of the food chain, including consumption at home or out of home (e. g. restaurants)

Social Dimension of Food Supply
  1. Food safety and human health: Each food chain type may result in the absence of pathogens and pollution in the food. Food complies with legal limits regarding microbiological, chemical or physical hazards.
  2. Food quality (freshness, taste and nutritional value): Each food chain type may result in the provision of food which is fresh, tasteful and has a good nutritional value.
  3. Viability of food traditions and culture: Each food chain type may result in the increased preservation of cultural distinctiveness and local food including seasonal variation and local food traditions. This implies the knowledge about its preparation and cultural role (including religious, ethnic or spiritual purposes).
  4. Transparency and traceability: Each food chain type may result in the increase of transparency and traceability. Transparency refers to information for the consumer about the way the food they is grown and distributed by direct trust-based consumer-producer relation, use of labeling schemes (e.g. regional & fair, PDO, PGI, organic). Traceability refers to availability of information at each stage of the supply chain (e. g. tracking of produce with smart codes).
  5. Food security (availability and accessibility of food): Each food chain type may result in the increase of food security, meaning that all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient food.